Avi Shamir

Genocide by Any Other Name

In the spirit of Holocaust Remembrance Day and in keeping with its universal significance, we Jews in Israel and all over the world should reaffirm our moral obligation to both commemorate the victims of Nazi persecution and speak out against those who threaten the mass murder of innocents. We must do all we can to prevent a recurrence of the genocide that the Nazis inflicted on the Jewish people.

As a son of a Holocaust survivor who is well aware of the traumas that our parents and grandparents suffered in the darkest moments in our history, I trust that my use of the term “genocide” is appropriate. By avowing that what the Nazis did in the last world war was an act of genocide, i.e. the premeditated slaughter of mass numbers of men, women and children who belong to a particular nation, I am refuting the monstrous lie spread by those who claim that the Holocaust never happened.

Our Holocaust wasn’t the first, nor was it the first to be denied. The one that preceded ours, which resulted in the murder of a million and a half Armenians at the hands of the Ottoman Turks during World War One, has striking similarities. The Armenians, too, were branded as enemies of their native country, in this case Turkey, singled out and marked for execution. They too were shot dead, drowned in rivers or burned alive by “killing squads.” They too were forced to endure persecution, deportation and “death marches” from which few survived. They too bear emotional scars and horrific memories that are passed from one generation to the next. And to this day, they too have to listen to the scoffers who deny or belittle their national tragedy.

Unlike the Germans, who at least admitted what happened and tried to make amends, the Turks have been washing their hands clean of the Armenian bloodbath for the past hundred years. Recently, when Pope Francis recognized the 1915-1923 Armenian massacres as the first genocide of the Twentieth Century, the predictable Turkish response was to recall its ambassador to the Vatican.

Next, the United Nations rejected the Pope’s recognition of the Armenian genocide, preferring to downplay it as “tragic events.” The ineffectual non-recognition of that spineless international men’s club is not so surprising. What is more disturbing is that both the United States and the State of Israel have shied away from using the dreaded G-word to sum up the Turkish slaughter of the Armenians.

US and Israeli officials have long cited “strategic relations” with Turkey as the rationale for not offending our tenuous “ally.” This impartiality is redolent of certain unprincipled American and English entrepreneurs who once refused to condemn Nazi anti-Semitism for fear that it would jeopardize “business relations.” With such historic role models, the United States and Israel are in bad company.

The Armenian genocide is now recognized by twenty-two nations, the European Parliament, Council of Europe, International Association of Genocide Scholars, Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee and Eli Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. That’s the kind of company that the governments of the United States and Israel should strive to be in.

Hopefully, ongoing debates in the US Congress and Israeli Knesset will presage a dramatic shift, right an historic wrong and point an accusing finger at our unproven “friend” Turkey for its crimes against humanity. As politically inexpedient as that may be, that is both the right thing to do and the least we can do, in remembrance of the Armenian victims and for their families. As the sun sets on another Holocaust Remembrance Day, American and Israeli policymakers would do well to put principles over politics for a change. If we want to prevent the next genocide we must first recognize the one that took the lives of 1.5 million Armenians.

And while we’re at it, someone should mention the estimated one million Tutsis who were butchered by the ruling Hutus in Rwanda; and the up to 7.5 million Ukrainians who were starved to death in the “man-made famine,” genocide by any other name, under the Stalin regime in the Soviet Union.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.